Digimon are the Champions

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

In the summer of 1999, things got weird. Natural disasters were happening all over the world and, at one particular summer camp in Japan, it started to snow in the middle of the day. For seven particular kids there, things got even more strange when seven small devices erupted from the ground in front of them, shortly followed by the ground breaking open and all of the kids falling to who-knows-where. When they wake up, it’s in the middle of a forest filled with strange creatures that call themselves “Digimon”. The seven children have fallen into the Digital World, the home of these Digital Monsters, and need to survive long enough to find a way back home, coming into conflict with evil Digimon and their own flaws and insecurities. What follows is a classic adventure full of character, witty humor, surprisingly sinister villains, and the show that put the Digimon franchise on the map.

Premiering in March of 1999, Digimon Adventure, the first anime based off of the line of virtual pets, follows the seven human kids that fell into the Digital World and their quest to not only find a way back home, but to also save both worlds from the hands of those that would like to either conquer or destroy the realms. Traveling with them are their own Digimon partners, who protect their human friends from the more hostile Digimon by “Digivolving”, the process of transforming into larger, more powerful forms that fit into different categories based on their strength (Baby -> In-Training -> Rookie -> Champion -> Ultimate -> Mega).

The seven kids, known in the Digital World as the Digidestined, share strong friendships that manage to let them survive the hostile world and hold fast even when they butt heads or are separated, and without their Digimon partners, they wouldn’t have survived the first day. There is Tai, the courageous and hot-headed de-facto leader of the group and his small fire breathing dinosaur Agumon; the cool and stubborn Matt and his wolf-like partner Gabumon; the compassionate and motherly Sora and her bird Biyomon; Izzy, the brains of the gang and his mechanical insect Tentomon; Mimi the fashionista drama queen with a caring heart and her flowery friend Palmon; Joe, who’s bookish and a bit of a nervous wreck at times is backed by the amphibious Gomamon; and T.K., Matt’s younger brother and the adorable flying Patamon. Later one, when they travel back to the real world to stop an army of evil Digimon from destroying Tokyo, they learn that Tai’s younger sister, Kari, is the eighth Digidestined, who finally gains her partner in the form of Gatomon. Throughout this adventure, they meet numerous other Digimon like the noble Leomon and the Yoda-like Piximon.

Besides the wild Digimon that attack the kids just on instinct, there are a few select monsters that truly make the Digital World a harsh place to live and are pure evil. These villains are surprisingly dark for a show that’s primarily for a younger audience, and their appearances, goals, and actions reflect that nature. Devimon, the first antagonist the kids confront on File Island, plots to enslave all Digimon under his will by using Black Gears that can implant themselves within their bodies, turning them violent and enthralling them to Devimon. Once they reach the continent of Server, the run into an odd Elvis-impersonating monkey named Etemon, who manages to be hilarious with his antics, but is quite ruthless to his underlings and controls a network that can spy on anyone within range. Myotismon, a powerful and cruel vampire that controls a large army, actually manages to make it into the real world, plotting to kill the Eighth Child and conquer both worlds. While the Digidestined are fighting Myotismon, the Digital World is taken over by the Dark Masters, four Mega Level Digimon that easily trounce the kids during their first encounter and are the worst of their enemies so far (The brash and violent MetalSeadramon, the psychopathic and bratty Puppetmon, the sociopathic and sadistic Machinedramon, and the monstrous jester that is Piedmon). The one responsible for all of the evil Digimon the kids have faced is Apocalymon, the physical embodiment of the hatred, envy, and despair of ancient Digimon that could not Digivolve to survive. However, arguably the most dangerous of the Digidestined’s enemies is the virus known as Diaboromon (appearing in the movie Our War Game), who not only puts the Dark Masters to shame in that it outsmarts the kids at every turn and wins against them almost every time, but came very close to destroying the world by launching nuclear missiles at Japan just to kill them.

Early on, the anime takes a pretty standard “Enemy of the Week” format. The Digdestined encounter a monster, their partner Digivolves to fight them, they win, rinse and repeat. It was with the final battle against Devimon and the group moving from File Island to Server that the story started to become a bit more intricate and mature. From such things as Tai learning the consequences of being too forceful with Agumon (leading to the latter Digivolving into SkullGreymon) and Sora dealing with personal issues regarding her mother, the cast has more depth to it than what most would expect or find in other shows for the demographic. Again, the villains help in that regard with their actions and when someone, whether it be a Digimon or human, dies, it is treated with the same seriousness as it would be in real life. Compared to later entries in the franchise however (I’m looking at you, Digimon Tamers), there is still plenty of light-hearted moments in the show and quite a bit of legitimately witty humor. Considering that the anime was dubbed by Saban Entertainment, the same people behind Samurai Pizza Cats, this should come as no surprise.

The show had a pair of short films directed by Mamoru Hosoda that chronologically took place before and after the kids’ adventure. The first acted as a pilot for the series and told how Tai and Kari first made contact with a Digimon when they were young and how the others also bore witness to a battle between two of them, which became a plot point during the Myotismon arc. The second film that takes place after the final battle with Apocalymon, Our War Game, shows the group’s efforts to stop Diaboromon from causing the total destruction of the real world, which also acted as the debut of Omnimon, the fusion of WarGreymon and MetalGarurumon and one of the strongest Digimon in this continuity. The events of this movie also acted as an important plot point in the sequel series.

Speaking of said series, Digimon Adventure went on to accumulate a sequel anime, two more films, and a third entry. The sequel, Digimon Adventure 02, takes place in 2002 and follows a new team of Digidestined, with aid from the original team, as they freely travel between both worlds to stop the plans of some new villains, including a new human antagonist known as the Digimon Emperor, a cruel and manipulative boy that sees the Digimon as nothing more than playthings to do with whatever he wishes. 02 also had a pair of movies in the form of Hurricane Touchdown, which is non-canon and not as well-received as the previous film, and Revenge of Diaboromon, which does seem to fit in canon and features the return of Our War Game‘s villain as he pulls another scheme that culminates with Diaboromon manifesting into the real world as Armageddemon, a Digimon so powerful that not even Omnimon could stop him alone.

After a long absence, Toei decided to re-visit the iconic show by giving it a true sequel in the form of Digimon Adventure tri., a series of six films that follow the original Digidestined as they go through high school and a new threat in the form of infected Digimon that have managed to make it into the real world. As the characters are older and more mature now, the story follows suite. Tai starts to see the amount of damage that the Digimon can cause and becomes conflicted over it, scared that millions of people can be caught in the crossfire. While they deal with this new crisis, the 02 kids go missing and the Royal Knight Digimon known as Alphamon, a Mega-Level in the same league as Omnimon, is searching for something, but the humans and their partners are in his way and has no issue with removing them forcibly if need be. The first film was released in Fall of 2015, with the second and third films slated for March and Summer of 2016.

Digimon Adventure is what can be considered a classic, with a cast that has more character than other shows for younger people, a story that explores some more serious topics, a good blend of action and humor, and a dub that’s actually pretty good and still has that late 90s/early 2000s corniness to it. As the first animated show of the franchise, it’s a good starting off point before seeing what else Digimon has to offer, with a few certain works (Again, Tamers) being deceptive about their premise and containing some things that probably aren’t what kids should see at a young age. Still, with tri. approaching its second movie and the highly anticipated Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth about to be released on the PS4, now’s probably a good time to hop onto Netflix and watch the show, to see just where this adventure began.